When Mel Brookes’ first movie ‘The Producers’ (about a deliberately-bad Hitler musical) was released, it got a dreadful mauling from US critics, although it went on to win an Oscar for its screenplay. Forty-four years on, and even allowing for the fabled eccentricity of the movie’s producer, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘The Dictator‘ received an equally mixed reception, with one critic dubbing it “a modern day minstrel show”. The film has already been banned in Tajikistan, even though (probably because) President Rahmon isn’t featured. Sacha must be laughing all the way to the bank; the film grossed over £19 million in its first nine days.
Set in the mythical north African oil-rich kingdom of Wadiya (clearly this must be Libya), the film stars Baron Cohen (aka Ali G, Borat and Bruno) as Supreme Leader Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen; Sir Ben Kingsley as his duplicitous uncle Tamir; gamin Halle Berry-lookalike Anna Feris is the love interest, Zoey; and Jason Mantzouba is banished Wadiyan nuclear scientist Nadal.
Comparisons with history’s most infamous despots litter the plot: lecherous Mao, medal-loving Idi Amin, vain Robert Mugabe, uniform-loving Fidel Castro. Even the late Kim Jon-il receives a ‘dedication’ at the start of the movie. Aladeen’s phalanx of curvaceous beret-wearing bodyguards is an obvious reference to Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard, while Osama Bin Laden gets a cameo appearance, revealed to be alive and well and living in a spare room in Aladeen’s palace: it seems the US Navy Seals only assassinated his double in Pakistan.
At the height of the Arab Spring, Wadiya’s Supreme Leader intends to repel democracy (and keep pocketing the oil revenue) at all costs. “Kim, Gaddafi and Dick Cheney” are the three lost dictators he most reveres.
After accepting an invitation to address the United Nations Assembly in New York (a clever historical back-reference to Fidel’s notorious trip in 1960) the mayhem begins, with countless slapstick moments – some reminiscent of the Marx Brothers’ classic ‘Monkey Business’ – and lashings of surreal black humour, including a macabre CIA torture chamber, where the imprisoned Aladeen nonchalantly dismisses as outdated equipment, a fearsome array of ‘interrogation aids’ which his captor threatens to employ (“Ahah! Who’s been to Syria?).
If you’re into what the Guardian’s film critic has memorably labelled ‘weapons-grade offensiveness’, sit back and enjoy the tourist helicopter ride above Manhattan, as two mid-western American tourists listen in disbelief to Aladeen and Nadal excitedly plotting “9/11 – 2012” (in fact the pair are merely discussing, in Arabic, the merits of the latest model Porsche).
‘The Dictator’ gets three screenings this month at the Courtyard (24, 25, 28 August), but in the interests of preserving any possible inheritance, don’t take grandma.
The 9/11 armageddon-type special effects in Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ are (with a budget 10 times that of Baron Cohen’s Dictator) truly epic. Though once again, OTT for gran. With a running time of almost three hours, you’ll need Bradley Wiggins’ stamina and bladder control to survive, but suspend all disbelief and enjoy this superbly crafted caped crusader blockbuster.
Gotham City is about to be taken over by a Bane, an evil respirator-wearing Hulk, with a voice that’s a cross between Darth Vadar and James Naughtie. Anne Hathaway is Selina Kyle, his sinuous Cat Woman accomplice (reprising the Michelle Pfeiffer role). On the side of lawn-order there’s Garry Oldman (can this really be the same, silky-smooth Garry Oldman from ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’?) and Joseph Gordon-Levett as Blake, the obligatory good cop. Christian Bale is a remarkably subdued Bruce Waye/Batman. There’s a cast of about 3,000 extras, countless buildings and bridges get destroyed, several hundred traders are mown down in the New York stock exchange (probably no bad thing), innumerable messy assassinations and needless expensive car crashes. Oh yes, Michael Caine’s in it too.
Local Dark Knight screenings are at the Courtyard on from the end of August.